Second Helpings

The chefs have changed, but Encore remains worthy of applause

This week's review of Fogo de Chão contains one important bit of wisdom: No man can live solely on giant hunks of skewered meat delivered by strapping young Brazilian men. Trust me, if it could be done, I'd already be doing it. As would my darling wife, in a heartbeat. But seriously? If you can die of a meat overdose, then Fogo de Chão would be the carnivore's Studio 54. You simply can't go there all the time and expect to survive.

A good alternative while you're waiting for your arteries to unclog: Encore. It's the perfect fall-back, a place I go when company, timing or circumstance dictates that all my traditional haunts are off the table. But unlike many restaurants that have taken on the sometimes damning decree of being all things to all people, Encore actually makes it work. And so I often find myself in Encore's dining room, or slouching around disreputably at its bar, even though I'm rarely there by design. Encore is just not one of those restaurants I make plans to go to — but regardless, I keep winding up there, showing it off to friends and family, trusting it to see me through those nights when sushi, barbecue, noodles or churrasco just won't cut it.

All this is not to say that Encore is a desperation choice — far from it. It grew quickly into a very good restaurant under the command of now-ex-chef Sean Huggard, who recently split to get hitched and start work on a place of his own. Paul Reilly, Huggard's chef de cuisine, was promoted to be his successor — and today Encore remains a very good restaurant, with a couple of dishes on its menu that I number among my favorites in the city. I love the french fries, with their artfully tangled shoestring presentation and drizzles of hot mustard, and I order them every time I walk through the door, before I've even glanced at the menu. I like the pork chops with spice-roasted pear and the simple chicken Cobb, tossed with honey-lime vinaigrette, which is what I had when I recently dropped by after a visit to the Tattered Cover, chased with a couple of double whiskeys on the rocks for their health-promoting properties. And an order of the fries, of course.

Mostly, though, I like Encore because I've never been disappointed here. Service is always friendly and professional; the bar is always welcoming. And the room itself, suspended halfway between the cloistered cool of fine dining and the comforting casualness of a hip neighborhood spot, is always welcoming. And not for nothing, but those fries? Just thinking about them makes me want to go out and get myself another order right now.